GMO seeds

Farmer’s Use of Modified Seeds Reaches Supreme Court

by Ellyn Ferguson, Roll Call  |  published on February 12, 2013

By developing and inserting a glyphosate- resistant gene into plant DNA, Monsanto Co. has created premium seeds of soybean, canola and cotton able to withstand its Roundup herbicides and similar weed killers.

In the agribusiness world, Monsanto is known as an aggressive enforcer of restrictions on farmers’ use of its patented line of genetically engineered crops. Now the St. Louis-based conglomerate is in a showdown with a southern Indiana farmer that will play out this month in the U.S. Supreme Court.

At issue is Vernon Hugh Bowman’s argument that Monsanto lost the right to keep him from planting Roundup Ready soybean seeds he bought from a grain elevator. The seeds came from soybean growers who had harvested and sold second-generation seed to the elevator, which in turn sold them to Bowman.

It’s an argument Bowman lost in a federal district court and on appeal. They found that Bowman owed the company $84,456 as compensation for patent infringement.

But Bowman, now 75, raised a question in his petition to the Supreme Court for a review that piqued the justices’ interest. They ignored the solicitor general’s advice to reject the case and are set to hear oral arguments Feb. 19.

The Office of the Solicitor General, Biotechnology Industry Organization, Software Alliance and the American Soybean Association, among others, have lined up in support of Monsanto’s argument that a decision for Bowman could undermine patent protections for man-made cell lines, nanotechnology, electronic software development and other self-replicating products.

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